Showing posts with label The Prince. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Prince. Show all posts

Friday, 31 August 2018

The Black Prince




"In the Mesopotamian creation myth, 
mostly what you see menacing Humanity is  
Tiamat

She’s the 
Dragon of Chaos. 

That’s Mother Nature, 
Red in Tooth and Claw. 

But by the time the Egyptians come along, 
it isn’t only Nature that threatens Humanity: 
it’s The Social Structure itself. 

So the Egyptians had two deities that represented The Social Structure. 

 One was Osiris, who was like The Spirit of the Father. 

 He was a Great Hero who established Egypt, but became  
old, willfully blind, and senile. 

He had an evil brother named Seth.

Seth was always conspiring to overthrow him. 

And, because Osiris ignored him long enough, Seth did overthrown him—

Chopped him into pieces and distributed them all around The Kingdom. 

"Re-member Me."
-Hamlet, Father of Hamlet,
Act 2 Scene I

"Re-Member."

- Spock,
Star Trek II : The Wrath of Kahn
The Black Princess



Osiris’ son, Horus, had to come back and defeat Seth, to take the kingdom back. 

That’s how that story ends. But the Egyptians seemed to have realized—maybe because they had become bureaucratized to quite a substantial degree—that it wasn’t only nature that threatened humankind: it was also the proclivity of human organizations to become too large, too unwieldy, too deceitful, and too willfully blind, and, therefore, liable to collapse. 

Again, I see echoes of that in the story of the Tower of Babel. It’s a calling for a kind of humility of social engineering. 
One of the other things I’ve learned as a social scientist…I’ve been warned about this by, I would say, great social scientists…is that 

You want to be very careful about doing large-scale experimentation with large-scale systems, because the probability that, if you implement a scheme in a large-scale social system, that that scheme will have the result that you intended, is negligible. 


What will happen will be something that you don’t intend—and, even worse, something that works at counter-purposes to your original intent. 

That Makes Sense. 


If you have a very, very complex system, and you perturb it, the probability that you can predict the consequences of the perturbation is extraordinarily low, obviously. If the system works, though, you think you understand it, because it works. You think it’s simpler than it actually is, and so then you think that your model of it is correct, and then you think that your manipulation of the model, which produces the outcome you model, will be the outcome that’s actually produced in the world. That doesn’t work, at all. 

I thought about that an awful lot, thinking about how to remediate social systems. Obviously, they need careful attention and adjustment. It struck me that the proper strategy for implementing social change is to stay within your domain of competence. That requires humility, which is a virtue that is never promoted in modern culture, I would say. It’s a virtue that you can hardly even talk about. But humility means you’re probably not as smart as you think you are, and you should be careful. So then the question might be, well, ok, you should be careful, but perhaps you still want to do good. You want to make some positive changes. How can you be careful and do good? Then I would say, well, you try not to step outside the boundaries of your competence. You start small, and you start with things that you actually could adjust, that you actually do understand, that you actually could fix. 

I mentioned to you, at one point, that one of the things Carl Jung said was that modern men don’t see God because they don’t look low enough. It’s a very interesting phrase. One of the things that I’ve been promoting online, I suppose, is the idea that you should restrict your attempts to fix things to what’s at hand. There’s probably things about you that you could fix, right? Things that you know aren’t right—not anyone else’s opinion: your own opinion. Maybe there’s some things that you could adjust in your family. That gets hard. You have to have your act together a lot before you can start to adjust your family, because things can kick back on you really hard. You think, well, it’s hard to put yourself together. It’s really hard to put your family together. Why the hell do you think you can put the world together? Because, obviously, the world is more complicated than you and your family. And so, if you’re stymied in your attempts even to set your own house in order—which, of course, you are—then you would think that what that would do would be to make you very, very leery about announcing your broad-scale plans for social revolution. 

It’s a peculiar thing because that isn’t how it works. People are much more likely to announce their plans for broad-scale social revolution than they are to try to set themselves straight or their families straight. I think the reason for that is that, as soon as they try to set themselves or their families straight, the system immediately kicks back at them—instantly. Whereas, if they announce their plans for large-scale social revolution, the lag between the announcement and the kickback is so long that they don’t recognize that there’s any error. You can get away with being wrong, if nothing falls on you for a while. It’s also an incitement to hubris, because you announce your plans for large-scale social revolution, stand back, and you don’t get hit by lightning, and you think, well, I might be right, even though you’re seriously not right. I might be right! And then you think, well, how wonderful is that? Especially if you can do it without any real effort. Fundamentally, I believe that that’s what universities teach students to do, now. I really believe that. I think it’s absolutely appalling and horribly dangerous, because it’s not that easy to fix things, especially if you’re not committed to it. I think you know if you’re committed, because what you try to do is straighten out your own life, first, and that’s enough. 

I think the New Testament states that it’s more difficult to rule yourself than it is to rule the city. That’s not a metaphor. All of you who made announcements to yourself every January about changing your diet and going to the gym know perfectly well how difficult it is to regulate your own impulses and to bring yourself under the control of some ethical and attentive structure of values. It’s extraordinarily difficult. People don’t do it. Instead, they wander off, and I think they create towers of Babel. 

The story indicates that those things collapse under their own weight, and everyone goes their own direction. I think I see that happening with the LGBT community. One of the things I’ve noticed that’s very interesting is that the community is, in some sense…It’s not a community. That’s a technical error. But it’s composed of outsiders, let’s say. What you notice across the decades is that the acronym list keeps growing. I think that’s because there’s an infinite number of ways to be an outsider. Once you open the door to the construction of a group that’s characterized by failing to fit into a group, then you immediately create a category that’s infinitely expandable. I don’t know how long the acronym list is now—it depends on which acronym list you consult—but I’ve seen lists of 10 or more acronyms. One of the things that’s happening is that the community is starting to fragment in its interior, because there is no unity. Once you put a sufficient plurality under the sheltering structure of a single umbrella, say, the disunity starts to appear within. I think that’s also a manifestation of the same issue that this particular story is dealing with. 

So that ends, I would say, the most archaic stories in the Bible. I think the flood story and the Tower of Babel story outline the two fundamental dangers that beset mankind. One is the probability that blindness and sin will produce a natural catastrophe, or entice one. That’s one that modern people are very aware of, in principle, right? We’re all hyper-concerned about environmental degradation catastrophe. That’s the continual reactivation of an archetypal idea in our unconscious minds—that there’s something about the way we’re living that’s unsustainable and will create a catastrophe. It’s so interesting because people believe that firmly and deeply, but they don’t see the relationship between that and the archetypal stories. It’s the same story: overconsumption, greed, all of that, is producing an unstable state, and nature will rebel and take us down. 

You hear that every day, in every newspaper, in every TV station. It’s broadcast to you constantly. That idea is presented in Genesis, in the story of Noah. So one warning that exists in the stories is to beware of natural catastrophe that’s produced as a consequence of blindness and greed, let’s say. The other is, beware of social structures that overreach, because they’ll also produce fragmentation and disintegration. It’s quite remarkable, I think, that, at the close of the story of the Tower of Babel, we’ve got both of the permanent, existential dangers that present themselves to humanity already identified. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

How Flatterers Should Be Avoided




Machiavelli's The Prince (1513)

Chapter XXIII: How Flatterers should be Avoided


I do not wish to leave out an important branch of this subject, for it is a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved, unless they are very careful and discriminating. It is that of flatterers, of whom courts are full, because men are so self-complacent in their own affairs, and in a way so deceived in them, that they are preserved with difficulty from this pest, and if they wish to defend themselves they run the danger of falling into contempt. Because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.
Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions. With these councillors, separately and collectively, he ought to carry himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred; outside of these, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.
I wish on this subject to adduce a modern example. Fra Luca, the man of affairs to Maximilian,[*] the present emperor, speaking of his majesty, said: He consulted with no one, yet never got his own way in anything. This arose because of his following a practice the opposite to the above; for the emperor is a secretive man--he does not communicate his designs to any one, nor does he receive opinions on them. But as in carrying them into effect they become revealed and known, they are at once obstructed by those men whom he has around him, and he, being pliant, is diverted from them. Hence it follows that those things he does one day he undoes the next, and no one ever understands what he wishes or intends to do, and no one can rely on his resolutions.
A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage every one from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that nay one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.
And if there are some who think that a prince who conveys an impression of his wisdom is not so through his own ability, but through the good advisers that he has around him, beyond doubt they are deceived, because this is an axiom which never fails: that a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who happens to be a very prudent man. In this case indeed he may be well governed, but it would not be for long, because such a governor would in a short time take away his state from him.
But if a prince who is not inexperienced should take counsel from more than one he will never get united counsels, nor will he know how to unite them. Each of the counsellors will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to control them or to see through them. And they are not to found otherwise, because men will always prove untrue to you unless they are kept honest by constraint. Therefore it must be inferred that good counsels, whencesoever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels.

[*] Maximilian I, born in 1459, died 1519, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He married, first, Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold; after her death, Bianca Sforza; and thus became involved in Italian politics.